Guided bus: Arguments over - it’s time to count the cost

Work on Huntingdonshire s new link to Cambridge will begin very soon. But costs for the guided bus scheme have soared to more than £116million. IAN MACKELLAR takes an in-depth look at the project, its implications and the rather large price tag. CHRISTM

Work on Huntingdonshire's new link to Cambridge will begin very soon. But costs for the guided bus scheme have soared to more than £116million.

IAN MACKELLAR takes an in-depth look at the project, its implications and the rather large price tag.

CHRISTMAS shopping in Cambridge for residents of Huntingdon and St Ives looks set to kick off the first journeys by guided bus between Huntingdon and Cambridge in 2008 - but at double the original construction cost.

And traders in Huntingdon will gain new custom from the first occupants of 16,000 new homes planned for the new town of Northstowe, near Longstanton.


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The cost of the guided bus project has doubled in just five years from £56million in 2001 to £116.2million, through a combination of unforeseen engineering problems, inflation in construction costs and landowners wanting more money.

The £23.7million balance of the cost will come from planning gain contributions from developers, notably of Northstowe.

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Only a few months ago, the scheme's promoter, Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC), was insisting the £86.4million total cost included everything - in spite of protests from CAST.IRON, promoters of an alternative heavy rail scheme, that the cost would exceed £100million.

Last week, the county and Government came clean, with Whitehall promising to fund £92.5million of what it is now actually estimated to cost.

But even that figure must be taken with a pinch of salt. Public sector infrastructure projects nearly always end up costing hugely more than expected and are usually seriously late.

This one is no exception. It was originally scheduled for opening in 2006, and all the traffic forecasts and economic assumptions used to justify it were based on that. Two years late, however, the economic arguments are probably stronger than they were at the time of the public inquiry in autumn 2004.

But the arguments are over - even though CAST.IRON continues to complain - and building work will start next January.

The Hunts Post opposed the scheme, arguing instead for a conventional bus link from Huntingdon and light rail from Northstowe. We accepted the Inspector's recommendation, endorsed by the Government, however, and will now press for the guided bus link to be delivered as speedily as possible.

Although the guideway is not vital to improvements to the A14 corridor - where the Highways Agency has £490million plans to improve the road between Ellington in west Huntingdonshire and Fen Ditton, north of Cambridge - it will potentially ease congestion during construction work (though not by a significant amount, CAST.IRON continues to insist).

Councillor John Reynolds, cabinet member for environment and community services, said:

"This is fantastic news. The Government has recognised the significant benefits this scheme will bring to the area and the value for money it offers. The busway really will be a step change in public transport for local people.

"With tens of thousands of new homes being built we must manage the growth and make sure facilities exist before new residents move to the area. Guided busway will give people an attractive alternative to their cars for some journeys with services being high quality, reliable and frequent.

"We have already had significant success in securing funds from the Government for road improvements and public transport. This investment is another success for the people of Cambridgeshire.

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